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January 17, 2004
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Welcome Matt
By KEVIN WILLIAMSON


PARK CITY, Utah -- Maybe Matt Dillon can't help it.

But from his stride, to his big black overcoat, the actor, famed for his sullen, explosive characters, looks like the last guy you'd expect to put on clown shoes for a laugh.

And you'd be right.

But that doesn't mean Dillon is without a sense of humour.

For one thing, he's here at Sundance to promote a film that is, dark and twisted as it may be, a comedy.

And for another, he is not without a sly observation about his own career, and why he's been an actor since he was 14.

"The first role I got was in a movie called Over The Edge and I could really identify with my character," he says. "I really think that's why I got into acting. If my first part had been in some family wilderness movie, then I probably would've quit."

Subsequently, movie-goers have seen the actor, who will turn 40 next month, enjoy a career that has spanned troubled teens (My Bodyguard, The Outsiders), alienated heartthrobs (Rumble Fish), despairing rebels (Drugstore Cowboy) and plaid-clad schmucks (There's Something About Mary).

The latter film perhaps makes his latest choice, Employee of the Month, which premiered at the festival last night, less of a surprise.

The movie, co-starring Christina Applegate and Steve Zahn, casts Dillon as a man who -- finally on the zenith of happiness -- sees his life spiral out of control.

"It's dark, it's very dark," he says.

But then again, it is also a movie that Sundance programmers hailed as "side-splitting."

"The humour is very biting," Dillon says. "I don't like most comedies I read. I don't like doing romantic comedies because the ones I see aren't very romantic and they're not very comedic."

Which brings us back to the clown shoes -- not literally, but figuratively.

As Employee of the Month director Mitch Rouse says, he and his leading man steered clear of too-obvious gags.

The result is a merciless film, which at one point, appeared even too dark for Dillon. The reason?

He dons some truly disgusting makeup because his character has been scarred by burns.

"When I got to the part of the script where it had that the character has this burn scar, I was like, 'Uh, can we talk about this?' " says Dillon.

As for what's up next for the actor it's something that's -- surprise! -- dark.

"It's called Crash. I go back to work on it Monday. It's in L.A. and it's a very (director Robert) Altman-esque ensemble piece. I play a very angry, racist L.A. cop. It's by no means a comedy."


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